Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 6 Countdown to Provence: Perspective of a French-American

Fabienne Spier Prepares Seasonal Foods

I spoke at length with Fabienne Spier, Professor of French, George Washington University in Washington, DC about food and lifestyle distinctions between Americans and French people. We explored the topic of how to lose excess weight and still find joy in life.

The American lifestyle is spreading to France and may be contributing to its increasing rates of overweight and obesity Fabienne told me during our interview. Fabienne observed that French people see the American way of life as new and fashionable. In France it is considered a treat nowadays to take children to McDonalds and more people are driving to the supermarket, eating out at lunch, and nibbling during the day.

Still Fabienne believes that “French Women Don’t Get Fat” (book by Mireille Guilano) because they place great importance on beauty in general. They pay careful attention to  their weight so they can stay attractive. She acknowledged though that some women in France use smoking to stay thinner, a practice that is neither healthy nor admirable.

Fabienne moved to the US from just outside of Paris 20 years ago. She was struck by lifestyle differences she discovered upon arrival. Among the key dissimilarities she noticed were:

  • The notion of “cooking from scratch” was new because everything is usually cooked from scratch in France.
  • Americans experienced guilt rather than joy from eating.
  • Eating out was routine in the US. In France eating out is reserved for special occasions because it is more expensive than eating at home.
  • Exercise looked hard and seemed to be an activity that must be done in a gym. France people get much of their exercise from walking, the main mode of transportation.
What does Fabienne advise from her bi-cultural experience about how to lose excess weight while living joyfully? She suggests preparing (or learning how to prepare) simple foods. In France meals always start with a large salad with a homemade vinaigrette or soup which are very filling. “Cooking doesn’t have to be complex. Simpler is better” she suggested.

Fabienne’s 5 top tips are:

  1. Cook simple, quality foods. Quality is much more important than quantity;
  2. Walk 45 minutes a day;
  3. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages;
  4. When hungry grab an apple. They are filling, sweet, and satisfying; and
  5. Be curious about the foods you buy. Your decisions have an impact on your health, that of your family, and the planet. Read labels, try to buy local products, and choose meat and fish that have been humanely and sustainably raised (more expensive but you don’t need to eat them every day).
What about seasonality? Fabienne offers us a dessert idea using rhubarb, which is delicious, beautiful, and now in season.

Recipe: Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote with Ice Cream

Serves 6 people


8 Stems or a bunch of rhubarb
1 Pound strawberries, stemmed (organic: fresh or frozen)
1 Cup of water
1/3 Cup sugar
1 Scoop vanilla ice cream per serving
6 Biscotti

To make rhubarb and strawberry compote: Wash and chop rhubarb. Place in saucepan. Add washed strawberries, water, and sugar. Cook for 15 minutes with lid. Remove lid and continue cooking until water almost completely evaporates.

Serve compote lukewarm topped with a scoop of ice cream and serve with a biscotti.

Clearly Fabienne gets much satisfaction from cooking simple foods that are of high quality. After all she says, “Food is life!”

What tips have you uncovered that can help persons who need and want to lose weight and live in joy? (Please comment below).


  1. In Poland, where I lived for my first 6 years, my mom often used to make rhubarb compote during summer. It was always delicious. One difference: no ice cream. There was no refrigerator in our apartment in 1939. You ate ice cream in an ice cream parlor, or you bought it from a street vendor.

  2. Good point! And the compote was probably delicious and much appreciated.

    Yours in joy and good health!